The latest entry in Capcom's ambitious role-playing series sets out to hunt monsters, but only manages to shoot itself in the foot.
While smacking your enemies in the noggin might sound more heroic than stabbing them in the butt, every approach has serious drawbacks that go beyond the boundaries of normal game balance. Indeed, combat tends to be awful in Freedom 2 no matter what weapon you wield. For one thing, you can't lock onto your enemies. For another, the camera is controlled with the D pad, so you can't move and adjust the camera at the same time. That's why running circles around an enemy while hacking at their shanks is one of the best options--it requires the least amount of camera adjustment. Watch out, though: If you enter a command during the wrong bit of animation, it won't execute. It isn't rare, for instance, to run up to an animal's tail end, hit the button to swing, and see your character just stand there.
However you elect to attack your quarry, it'll eventually run away to lick its wounds, but you can counter this by pelting it with a paintball, which then shows the monster's location on your minimap. You'll need more in your inventory than just paint, though. You'll need health potions to regain lost hit points, food to replenish stamina, whetstones to sharpen your blades, hot or cold drinks to protect you from various environmental conditions (if it's supercold, your stamina will quickly diminish without a hot toddy), traps to lay for the monsters, and stuff to throw at them while they're trapped. Some of this is provided for you at the start of a given quest, but at other times you'll realize, after 20 minutes of very dirty fighting, that your blade has dulled and you forgot to bring whetstones. Ouch.
While a dull blade might seem more painful in some ways than a sharp one, you'll have to head back to town for more whetstones if you ever want to kill anything. In town, you can either buy what you need (which is usually superexpensive), or craft it. But things aren't quite that simple. There are roughly a million crafting reagents in Freedom 2 that, when combined, will create another item. However, instead of recipes, all you have is a 160-entry list of combinations that details which items can be combined, but not what they make--that is, until you make one of them. So rather than knowing you want to make an item and gathering the ingredients, you have to blindly combine things until you stumble upon the item you were originally looking for.
This is complicated in two ways. The most useful items are created by combining previously crafted items, so you have to literally find your way through a multilevel blind maze of unintuitive combinations before making anything useful. Furthermore, you store your items in a big box with room for 100 different things (though later it can be made to hold more), yet you can carry only 30 items in your inventory. Only items in your inventory can be combined, yet you need to try combining everything. So to work your way through the system, you have to constantly swap items in and out of your inventory, while inevitably losing track of it all. This may be the most obtuse crafting system ever.
Still, some ingredients, such as honey (which turns normal potions into awesome potions) are obviously more valuable than others, so you'll want to head into the field to gather the good stuff. You can also go to your own personal farm, which is conveniently run by cat people. On the farm, you can catch three fish, capture three bugs, mine three ore, harvest up to three rows of crops, plant trees, tend bees, and all sorts of other things every time you finish a quest. You can also buy one of the little cat people (called Felynes) a boat, and fund his expeditions to various zones, after which he'll return to you with presents. This farm is the best part of the game, and will drive you to go out and complete quests so you can come back and see what's developed.
Another nice feature is the ability to meet up to three other friends for ad hoc monster hunting. The problems with the combat still apply, but taking down big monsters with a band of buddies is a totally different experience, camera issues be damned. That's why it's so disappointing that yet again, the game lacks Internet play. This series is much better when you play with a party, but if your friends aren't around, you're stuck going stag. My kingdom for some bots.
Speaking of the kingdom, or at least the world, the environmental graphics really got the royal treatment. The mountain lake is a serene pool that reflects the sky, while further up into the snowy heights, white wind swirls about your hunter, threatening a blizzard. Then there's the tropical jungle, surrounded by azure water and adorned with vivid rainbows. Sadly, these good looks come at a high price--Freedom 2's loading times are frequent and lengthy. You'll face a long loading time when you begin a quest, load every time you move from zone to zone within an area, and reload when you win or lose. With graphics, as with everything else, this game bites off more than it can chew.
It's easy to admire Monster Hunter Freedom 2's ambition--it has many of the ingredients of a good online RPG. But to handle all those disparate elements, you need a recipe for success, and that's something the game lacks. There's no coherent system or vision underneath all the quests, items, and monsters, and as a result the overall product is much less than the sum of its parts. While it certainly offers plenty of meat for those who decide to bag it, there is certainly better game elsewhere.